- Wessex is becoming increasingly an unbalanced region. The east is well known for frantic over-development, with house prices soaring way out of reach of local people. The west is equally well known for low pay, high unemployment and chronic out-migration offset by the retired and second home owners. Towns face huge environmental and social challenges. The countryside is under threat from agricultural intensification, inappropriate sprawling development and waste disposal. The numbers of job opportunities, shops, and schools within these local communities have fallen markedly in recent years, while services such as public transport have also shrunk considerably.
- Economic development cannot be viewed in isolation, as it so often is. Rather, it is vital that the effects on the environment and on community life have to be taken into account as well as the number of jobs created or lost. The economy must be developed in a sustainable way, to create the foundation for both a strong, thriving and self-reliant community and an ecologically-sound economy. In order to maintain and revitalise our communities we will encourage small rural industries where these can be demonstrated to benefit the local economy without adding unacceptably to traffic and environmental problems. Wherever possible these firms should make use of and foster local skills and use local produce. Adding value onto goods at source and the creation of local distribution networks is a priority in the creation of a sustainable economy for Wessex.
- Wessex Regionalists believe that economic regeneration in Wessex should be based upon the development of indigenous enterprise, with any inward investment carefully scrutinised for its effects on the environment and community life. Strong local economies meeting the majority of local needs are less vulnerable to recession and shifts in global markets. The Wessex economy should be developed to enable it increasingly to meet Wessex needs. A long-term aim would be regional self-sufficiency in food, energy and all essential manufactured goods.
- Keeping the value-adding processes inside Wessex not only increases local economic activity and benefits local people; it reduces the use of finite resources and cuts down on the import of goods over long distances. It is a nonsense that goods should be imported into Wessex when they can just as well be produced locally.
- In order to support the small businesses already in Wessex and attract environmentally and socially acceptable inward investment, Wessex must have its own economic development institutions. In particular, we need a Wessex Development Agency (WDA) to replace those for the ‘South West’ and ‘South East’. The whole region faces a number of critical problems that the current division of responsibility is poorly equipped to address. These include the transformation of traditional sectors such as agriculture, tourism and defence-based engineering to face a changing world. Accompanying the WDA, there needs to be a region-wide training agency working in partnership with the education sector and the predominantly small and medium sized businesses of Wessex to develop the skills needed for a sustainable economic future.
- The WDA will only be accounted a success if it is part and parcel of a series of long overdue reforms. It must be appointed by – and answerable to – a directly-elected regional assembly. It must have the will to say ‘NO’ to the wrong kinds of development: those that would damage our environment and our communities. It must have the powers and resources to promote new industries that will help to solve our problems, not make them worse. With these institutions and policies in place, Wessex will have some of the tools needed to confront the global economy in the century ahead. Without them, it will become a patchwork of disoriented, polarised communities overwhelmed by the pace of growth and leisure backwaters that have seen better days, a region faced with an increasingly tawdry and ruined environment and a lost heritage.
A regionalist government in Wessex will:
- move towards self-sufficiency, promoting local production to meet local needs, cutting down on the need for goods to be imported over long distances and ensuring that more of the value-adding processes take place in Wessex
- assist support funding for new indigenous firms rather than encouraging outside firms to relocate in Wessex and undercut existing businesses
- encourage appropriate high technology industries in Wessex, spreading the benefits of growth more widely while resisting its adverse impacts (‘smart growth’)
- invest in green sciences, including large-scale energy conservation programmes and schemes for recycling, repair and re-use: environmentally necessary but also labour-intensive, creating jobs in every locality.
- insist that international harmonisation of consumer protection and environmental controls raises standards to those of the best
- defend the right to impose higher standards than the norm to ensure that Wessex produce remains of the highest quality
Meanwhile, the Wessex Regionalists will:
- support region-wide marketing initiatives that make Wessex a recognisable brand with a reputation for quality and innovation.